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Thread: A question for musicians

  1. #26
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    Registered: Jan 2003
    Location: NeoTokyo
    I recall some interview with Paul McCartney where he was explaining the Beatles' method of song-making, and he said at the start they typically took a couple of ideas from other songs and put them together with their own tweaks.

    That turned out to be a useful idea for me. I'll listen to other songs actively listening for ideas, like some kind of repeating hook or chord progression or a call & response or stops or the way the bridge comes in, whatever, then lift it & tweak it to make it your own. Then you start with that idea and build the rest of the song around it.

    Generally I think just having some chords or ideas scribbled on paper to start with is what's most important, so you have something to build on. This is also such a personal thing though. Different methods work for different people, even the same people at different times.

  2. #27
    SShock2.com
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    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: The land of ever sideways rain
    That reminds me of a David Bowie interview from the 70s, where he cut out random words and put them into a hat and drew them out one by one, and tried to assemble a song from that. Some rewriting, sure, but he claimed that method triggered his creativity. One other thing he said was that to make a song more interesting was to play ONE note off key. If people hear it once, they'll think it's a mistake, but if you repeat it they'll think it's a brilliant arrangement.

    Not that I'm a massive Bowie fan, but it was interesting to hear his views on song writing. I've used the latter trick a few times, perhaps it's time to try the former.

  3. #28
    Member
    Registered: May 2004
    Speaking of Paul McCartney....

    When I was about 15 or so, I read an interview where he talked about writing songs by starting with the vocal melody, then afterwards composing the chords to fit and accentuate the melody. Simple enough, but at that point my little "post-punk art rock" band (as we labeled ourselves at the time) wrote songs entirely the other way: we'd compose these sophomoric over-complicated mini-symphonies, then the singer had to come up with a vocal melody and lyric to put over the top of it.

    Even on simpler songs it could be difficult for the vocalist to come up with a lyric and melody that fit the tone of the chord & key changes, rhythms and arrangement.

    So when we tried a few songs where we honed a clean, clear melody, and then arranged the song around that, it was an incredible epiphany and we had an unusually prolific period of writing.

    (Note: in the case of instrumental compositions, this could still mean starting with the melody or repeated hook of the piece rather than a vocal melody. Obvious, sure, but I know how easy it is to get stuck in a rut when it comes to thinking about composition.)

    I'm not suggesting it's the better way to write; I'm just suggesting that taking a completely different approach to how you usually compose a song can surface ideas -- and even whole stylistic decisions -- you may have never otherwise experienced.

    Because I was a guitarist first, I always wrote the riff or chords and the structure of the song first, then wrote the melody. So for naive little me that one interview was an odd eye-opener to a whole new way of seeing composition.

    I imagine you could accomplish something similar by starting with a completely different instrument or timbre than you usually use. Today sometimes I'll just put one of my guitars in an exotic (or at least unfamiliar to me) alternate tuning, and that will trigger me to compose with new and different chords or chord voicings.

  4. #29
    Member
    Registered: Feb 2007
    Location: Sevastapol Station
    If you ever decide to go the sibelius route, try MuseScore instead. It's free and pretty much just as good.

    https://musescore.org/en

  5. #30
    SShock2.com
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    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: The land of ever sideways rain
    Back in the olden days, by my standards somewhere in 1981-ish, I learned to play the recorder flute-type-thingy, and was forced to learn how to read sheet music to do so. I hated it at the time, but it served me well half a decade later when my first sequencer used the same notation. I did eventually see the value of reading standard sheet music notation. Now, that was decades ago, and I've pretty much forgotten all about it. I can probably decode sheet music, very very slowly, if I pay close attention to it which I won't, because I'm lacking the braincells to do so nowadays, both of mine are busy elsewhere.

    And yes, I do agree that picking up an instrument you're not previously familiar with can break your preconceptions, that's why I got a ukulele and harmonicas a decade or so ago. What I learned from that is that I'm crap at the ukulele and harmonicas.

    But hey, I'm still hoping to learn something new that I might not be as crap at.

    [Edit]

    I can't leave this sheet music conversation without some reference to Frank Zappa. My wife was a huge Zappa fan, and I don't remember the exact quote, but it was something like he just like how blots looked on the sheets, not how it actually sounded, which may explain why so many of his arrangements may seem so random. Then again, that be just the same mythology building as Bowie was doing with the hat. I remember a 60s clip where Zappa was playing the bicycle, so I'm inclined to belive it.

    [Edit again]

    Ok, I uploaded another thing. This time, I know it's derivative crap, so please don't hold in your criticism. Point out any flaws you can find, I'm aware of at least a few of them. Again, it's short and it goes nowhere. it's just basically a bouncy drumbeat dressed up a bit with some old stale crap. But, the reason I'm exposing you to it is because it makes me dance in my chair. That doesn't mean much, I'm old and clearly out of touch with modern music, so go ahead, rip it to shreds.

    https://soundcloud.com/user-188042036/mondays

    [Edit once again]

    For some odd reason, the 808 break doesn't sound right in that clip, maybe something went wrong in the conversion, I'll have a look. It's supposed to be stereo-panned.
    Last edited by Gray; 17th Jul 2019 at 07:45.

  6. #31
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    Registered: Feb 2001
    Location: Somewhere
    hey I liked it, but yeh its pretty bare-bones. Needs more melodic content, but thats just my opinion. I kept wanting a more solid chord change to the VI, which I felt you implied but never quite got down on it. The bit at around 0.27 was good but I wanted to hear that heavier in some way.

    And also standard notation (sheet music) is very visual when you look at it, the shape of it actually represents the sound, so I agree with that Zappa thing

  7. #32
    SShock2.com
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    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: The land of ever sideways rain
    Quote Originally Posted by PigLick View Post
    0.27
    Yeah, that's where I wanted the guitar to come in, but I don't have one any more. I'm considering getting a new cheap one. Not that I can play it, just make the occasional chord/noise to emphasise a point in a song, like I just couldn't do there.

  8. #33
    SShock2.com
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    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: The land of ever sideways rain
    Quote Originally Posted by Tocky View Post
    The piano is what needs to breakdown. Other than that a sinister voice singing a sinister low and sibilant song that builds to the breakdown. I like it. It has potential.
    If you can do that, and you'd want to work on it, I'd quite happily send you the sound files required, track separated. I can not do that stuff myself.

  9. #34
    SShock2.com
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    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: The land of ever sideways rain
    I'd like to point out that I put a bit of effort into the production of 6-to-8, quite picky with sounds, but I lost energy for the arrangement.

    With Mondays, I mainly focused on the drums, trying to keep them interesting, and hence failed on both production and, well, anything related to music. Sorry about that. But I wanted to make sure it was of a different style than the other one.

    My next piece of crap will again have a different style, a cheap slow house beat, perhaps even mildly cheerful, if I can get it right.

  10. #35
    Moderator
    Registered: Jan 2003
    Location: NeoTokyo
    I think there are lots of different ways to conceptualize and visualize music, and all of them can be valid if they work for a person. But I think the different styles lend themselves to different ways of thinking, which means different forms of music. I find writing out music -- for me it'd start with a single sheet staff where I'll write the melody line and then put chord signs over it, basically a lead sheet -- makes me think about it almost like a math problem, where I'm thinking of the changes explicitly and what scales go over it. The big alternative for me is literally just letting my hands go on the keyboard and finding the lines, like a kind of muscle memory and intuition, and I'll just keep repeating a line and tweaking little bits here and there until it sounds set. Then I'll write that down. (I like a simple lead sheet just because my memory isn't that good and it's the most efficient way to get music to paper. And I like some guidance, even when I'll improv over it later.)

    Interestingly one of the best thing, or anyway the most musically complicated thing I ever wrote (an etude), I composed it in a midi editor, like literally placing down bars on a grid & stretching them out for the duration! I think because it was so detached from any physical or musical thing, there wasn't that bias and I was really thinking about it like solving a math problem. Stuff was coming out that I would have never just come up with on my own. So that's a thought too.

  11. #36
    Member
    Registered: Feb 2001
    Location: Somewhere
    Yeh, using a step sequencer to compose is really good for me, as you said its like a maths puzzle. I try to avoid writing on the guitar because I end up just letting my muscle memory do the work and everything starts sounding the same.

  12. #37
    SShock2.com
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    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: The land of ever sideways rain
    Back in the day, I initially found it quite difficult to work a step sequencer, but I now find it easier to get interesting melodies out than just using my hands on a keyboard. I've used trackers and recording sequencers, and every new method comes with new ways of trying to make what you hear in your head come out the way you hope. True, it is a bit like a maths problem, it's a matrix, and I can work with that. I just can't do everything I want to with it. I know perfectly well my limitations as a keyboard player, so I've been trying to learn new ways to achieve my goal. Turned out I'm not a guitarist either. I'd love to tinker around with a theremin, just for shits and giggles, but I can't possibly expect to do anything useful with it and it's out of my price range. I am quite keen to try out new controller devices, to help me break out of my G-minor problem, and they're getting cheaper and more accessible. Maybe some day I'll manage to make something that isn't crap.

  13. #38
    SShock2.com
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    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: The land of ever sideways rain
    I made another piece of crap that I'm not yet ashamed of.

    This time, I was trying to do a fairly interesting house beat, but as always, I ran out of ideas and it didn't come out nearly as well as it sounded in my head before I forgot what the plan was.

    Anyway, here it is. It's not great. Like the others, short and pointless.

    Primitive House

    [Edit]

    The intent was to make it sound as if it was made on a C64, but the tools I had couldn't fake it well enough, so there's just a bit of that. Then I got distracted by the drum machines. Story of my life.

    [Edit again]

    Yes, I know, the first noise break should be two bars longer, and the following drum machine needs to be turned down a bit. I'll fix that for the next version.

    [Edit yet again]

    I'm ambivalent. On one hand, I know the song is shit. On the other, I'm really pleased with how the drums came out, and I've been playing it on a loop all night. But really, I made it to please myself and myself only, so I assume, mission accomplished? I'm not happy with the choppy edit, but damn, those drums sound awesome now that I dare to play them on the big speakers. :ahem: Sorry for this narcissistic nonsense. I'm just surprised and pleased that not all I do is utter shit. It feels pretty good that I can surprise myself. Perhaps it's not for you, but right now, I'm feeling pretty good about bits of it, you can point out all the flaws and I'll read them later when I no longer like it.

    [Edit just once more]

    I uploaded another bit of quick work called Elephants Bounce at Midnight, it started out as a mock-EBM track, hence the title acronym. This was fast work and not done well, but it entertained my sense of humour for a bit.
    Last edited by Gray; 18th Aug 2019 at 20:04.

  14. #39
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    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: The land of ever sideways rain
    I made a new thing. I'm sorry. Honestly. But hear me out first, so you'll know why it's bad. There was a plan.


    This time, I broke all of my rules*. This doesn't mean the music is any better, in fact it's probably worse. Much worse. Let me elaborate:

    Number A) This is probably the first time I wrote a song for a specific purpose. In this case, something to keep my rhythm when I'm out walking. I walk for exercise. 106 BPM is a pace that suits the length of my legs. With this new FitBit toy, I try to do 10,000 steps or more per day, 30,000 is my personal best so far. It helps to have a steady beat to walk to, and I'm running out of songs in that tempo range. Yeah, first world middle-class piddly-ass problems, I know.

    2) I decided to forego my usual G minor whiny crap and try to do something in a major key instead. This doesn't make it good either, but it reflects how I feel about sunshine. It has to be in a major key, I'm just crap at writing for one. I wanted the song to evoke a sense of sunshine, and walking. Maybe it doesn't do it for you, but I wrote it for me. Selfish bastard. The idiotic simplistic bassline is supposed to mimic steps.

    C) It is extremely repetitive, this time on purpose. Usually, I try to vary my songs a bit, but since this was written for one purpose only, I did want it to be repetitive and lengthy. The only things that change are the LFOs and FX. If you can be arsed to listen, once you've passed 45 seconds, it doesn't get any better, just more of the same. And again. And yet some more. And again. Until you want to punch yourself in the face. Or walk away. Oh, hey, that's the point of the track. Walking.

    5) I've used a sample. Every lame hack wannabe dweeb sooner or later has to sample Clyde Stubblefield's excellent "Funky Drummer" (the James Brown track). Usually I don't sample, but this specific sample was the very birth of this idea. I needed something to walk to at a suitable tempo, so I got Funky Drummer on my phone and tuned it until I found a pace that suited me, which turned out to be 106 BPM. I've not used the sample much, it's mostly garbled and hidden by FX and other drum machines inspired by it, but it's there. Thank you, Clyde! Thank you for all your wonderful, underrated work. Sorry James didn't pay you more. I also used a sample of Dustin Hoffman "Hey, I'm walking here!", but it didn't fit right so I took it out again, it was too aggressive and didn't fit the tone of the track. It's not in the current version, although I kept it in the title. I may dig out another "hey" sample by someone else later if I can make it work, there are loads of them, there's at least one "I'm walking here" meme, probably more. I'm considering using the Rick & Morty thing if I can find a clean version. It was in the bit where it all goes quiet, and the beep was supposed to imitate a honking taxi horn, or mask the noise in the sample. It just didn't work.

    D) I only used two chords. Usually I use one, or four. Never tried two before.

    Nine) I'm so tired I'm shit at counting, which should be obvious by now.

    4) I'm sure there was a four somewhere. Maybe I dropped it on the floor.

    F) The final rule I broke was that I know this is NOT good but I decided to share it anyway. Very not good. But, just in case there is someone else out there that can use it for the same purpose, or some other purpose, and finds it useful, it's here, free. Just don't say I didn't warn you first. It's not good.

    Anyway, here it is:
    Walking in the Sunshine (Hey, I'm Walking Here!)




    * Um, I broke most of my rules. I don't have an actual list. There's just stuff I don't usually do.
    Last edited by Gray; 20th Aug 2019 at 12:46.

  15. #40
    Member
    Registered: Feb 2003
    I felt like I needed to elaborate on what I said earlier about being more of a technician: I'm a technician putting sounds together rather than a musician having to deal with technology, and also more of a programmer than a composer and more of a knob twiddler than a performer -- and by that I mean that I'm neither a composer nor a performer; I just create whatever crap I create, because I need to create something lest I perish. I aim high, though, probably because I don't know any better.

    Anyway, I thought your walking in the sunshine thing was pretty enjoyable actually. Feels like it does exactly what you intended it to do. I can easily see myself listening to this while cooking or baking etc... You probably hear everything wrong with it, but I honestly don't (for whatever that's worth) -- except maybe the first breakdown that felt a bit unnecessary (in my humble opinion, of course).

    Det primitiva huset has potential (more than you might admit?), but it also reminds me of a lot of my own material; many individually great themes stitched together to form something that is not as great, but could be. The intro, like the first 40 seconds, has a nice ambient feel.

    Also, fuck it: my old crap. Sound quality is most likely shit, because reasons (might want to be careful with the levels so as not to attract horny cats slash angry neighbours (or is it the other way around?), or make small children cry); working on fixing that. I'm kind of happy with them otherwise (unlike the remaining 99 percent of what I've stitched together).

    Just saw that Reason 11 is soon to be released. I just upgraded to 10 (after having stuck with 3 for a long time, because reasons), so I'm going to skip this one. Also doesn't have a lot of reasons for me, personally, to upgrade. One thing I would like to see in the sequencer is flow control tracks (e.g. looping and skipping), because I do that manually a lot, and also a way to automate the loop markers. Marker tracks would be nice too instead of having to use muted audio tracks like I do now. Etc...

  16. #41
    SShock2.com
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    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: The land of ever sideways rain
    Thank you. I intend to work a bit more on PrimitivHus, it's not done yet, I have a few more ideas on where I want it to go, but I was too excited about it at the time and had to post it before it was finished. Having said that, even when it's finished, it will not be a great work of art, just some bouncy crap you'll forget the next day. I'm quite pleased with the piano break near the end where the dist drums kick in, I want to milk that a bit more if I can. I'll try to write that thing back in, I'm just currently stuck on a bass break that isn't working.

    This very minute, I'm tinkering with another horrible EBM piece of noise, but that might never surface. Maybe I should stick to the noise house. I do love distorted drum machines, syncopated or not.

    [Edit]

    About the technician bit, that is exactly how I think as well, I just have to get these noises out of my head, and maybe someone else might find a use for them.

    [Edit again]

    Your stuff is really very enjoyable. I'm currently playing the same track for the fifth time.
    Last edited by Gray; 27th Aug 2019 at 19:20.

  17. #42
    Member
    Registered: Feb 2003
    Sorry for not being more constructive. Reasons etc... I write whole paragraphs and then I delete them. Also something about Meshuggah finally dressing in pink and glitter.

  18. #43
    SShock2.com
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    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: The land of ever sideways rain
    One day when I grow up, this is the level of noise I aspire to be able to create.



    Yes, yes, I'm nearly 50, but I'm still dumb as a teenager, and I'm not getting any smarter, only older and fatter. This level of noise appeals to me. If I can learn to make something similar, I'll be happy. Briefly.

  19. #44
    Moderator
    Registered: Jan 2003
    Location: NeoTokyo
    I can make a jazz track much easier than an electronic track. The reason is because jazz improvisation is so systematized. I'll have a pre-programmed drum and bass track play the backbone of a tune in Band in a Box (I've tried to play my own drum and bass on the keyboard; it's possible to sound good, but I'm not there yet). And as a pianist I'll comp over it and play a solo, and often I'll add another solo instrument (via my keyboard), tenor sax being my favorite. And it will work.

    For an electronic tune, there's not the same kind of software where you can pre-program a drum and bass that plays the chords autonomously and sounds good. Or if there is I don't know about it. I usually just play with synths, tweaking with the parameters until it sounds interesting, and just start pure improvising, and recording it until something interesting comes out.

    But that's something being composed as I go. I like it because it sounds raw, like pure inspiration, but there will be flubs, it's not really thought out where I'm going with it, and it doesn't lend itself to layering it with other tracks, like drum and bass. Although sometimes I'll start with a drum or rhythm sample and play a simple bass line, and then improvise over that. But that sounds flat. So I end up spending more time just making a synth sound interesting.

    I guess the punchline is electronic music is both easier and harder than jazz. The harmony and lines aren't as sophisticated, but there aren't any clear rules where to go with it either. I'd like to make better recordings but it's been a challenge and I need to figure out a better process that works for me and ends up with something that sounds good. I think the real secret to any great tune is having a good process in mind to make it.

  20. #45
    Member
    Registered: May 2004
    Waiting for the next Giant Steps soon. No pressure.

  21. #46
    Member
    Registered: Feb 2001
    Location: Somewhere
    The only problem with using band in a box type stuff for jazz is that the drums dont "swing".

  22. #47
    SShock2.com
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    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: The land of ever sideways rain
    I'd like to get back to the topic of buying new hardware.

    Yesterday I went into a local shop and had a look around, and found something that almost made me wet myself. It was a Roland System-1. Only two octaves, lots of knobs, awesome sound. Does anybody have any experience with this toy? It's roughly £400 and probably out of my price range, so please give me excuses to not buy it. I didn't want to stay in the shop too long and fiddle with it, I have very bad memories of overdoing that in the 80s. Any thoughts on this machine, or something that is better/cheaper? (When I say "only two octaves", that's a good thing, I want a small keyboard with onboard synthesis that is also a useful control keyboard).

    Just for reference, my very first synth was a Roland Alpha Juno-1, back in 1986, so my impression may have been, um, affected by that.

    Any thoughts welcome.

  23. #48
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    I take it then that nobody knows first hand of this little machine. Any other two octave keyboard controller with onboard synthesis you can recommend then?


    [Edit]

    Just for reference, this is the Roland System-1. It seems to be quite versatile. I'll probably go into the shop again and give it a go, but I'm still looking for reasons to NOT buy it. Aside from the obvious, like lacking the money and talent to use it properly, of course.

    [Edit again]

    I nearly wet myself again just watching this video. I want this machine. I am a gullible idiot too easily seduced by noisy toys. It just sounds awesome. And £400 is roughly what I spent on my Juno-1 in 1986. And I own about a dozen synths, some more expensive, not counting drum machines, except they're all in boxes in a different country. Hmm. Am I trying to talk myself out of or into buying this..? It just sound like I'm full of crap and trying to rationalise a decision I've already made but don't want to commit to just yet. I need to try this machine in person again, but that will probably be harmful to my wallet.
    Last edited by Gray; 16th Sep 2019 at 20:59.

  24. #49
    Moderator
    Registered: Jan 2003
    Location: NeoTokyo
    Me and Jason Moyer were just talking about the Hydrasynth, which has taken over the Minilogue for my favorite in this category. (Short to me means 4 octaves.)

  25. #50
    SShock2.com
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    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: The land of ever sideways rain
    Ooh, that looks tempting as well. I am so easily mislead!

    [Edit]

    It sounds great, but it seems more geared towards performers. I'm a shit keyboardist, I'm not a performer, more of a sound technician and programmer. I can only pretend to be an actual musician for so long, but give me a noise machine with knobs and I'll twiddle away until I starve to death. Unless the Hydrasynth is significantly cheaper than the System-1, I'll probably go for the latter, it appeals more to my particular flavour of sound nerd. But thanks, it's still a very viable option.

    I can tweak VCF envelopes all day, but I can't play anything beyond G minor or C major. I'm that stupid.

    Having heard your stuff, which I very much enjoy, I can see why you'd like this machine. But you're a much better keyboardist than I am, perhaps it's not for me. But just as I was typing that, the video made some very cool noises, so much in my wheelhouse, I can not discount it yet. I like what I hear. Those sample-and-hold bleeps just speak to me. Awesome resonant filter. That's exactly my nerd level. Dammit, now I'm undecided again. But thanks for giving me this option.


    [Edit again]

    Bloody hell, it's £1,299. That is out of my price range. Very nice sound, though. I very nearly used several F-words when I saw the price, but I stopped myself because I didn't want to offend such a beautiful machine.
    Last edited by Gray; 16th Sep 2019 at 23:10.

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